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How to Smoke a Pork Butt for Pulled Pork

How to Smoke a Pork Butt for Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Guide

This beloved low-and-slow smoked meat is the perfect solution for feeding a large, hungry crowd. Pork butt is laced with flavorful fat and connective tissue that melt when cooked low and slow, giving the pork an incredibly tender texture and succulent flavor.

How to Buy Pork Butt for Pulled Pork

A full pork butt can weigh between 8 and 20 pounds and has two halves: the pork butt and the picnic roast.

Pork butt (also sometimes called "Boston butt") is a well-marbled cut that comes from the top portion of a pig's front leg. It is sold with the bone-in (averaging 6-9 lbs.) or without the bone (averaging 5-8 lbs.).

A picnic roast (also sometimes called "picnic shoulder") comes from the lower part of the shoulder. A picnic roast usually has a thick layer of fat, which is good for making pork cracklings.

Which cut should you use for pulled pork? Our preferred cut is the pork butt (Boston Butt).

What about boneless vs. bone-in? When it comes to pulled pork, there's not much difference between bone-in and boneless butt, though some say the bone adds more flavor. Having a bone in the meat helps retain moisture and flavor.

How Much Pork Do You Need?

Plan on about one-half pound per person for boneless. Be aware that there is significant shrinkage and waste and fat you discard when pulling the pork if you're doing bone-in. Count on approximately 30% loss.

Tips for Smoking Pork

Here are a few thoughts from expert pitmasters on how to make the best smoked pulled pork on the block.

1) Keep It Simple

Skip any marinades, injections, or brines. The purpose of marinades and brines is to tenderize, moisturize, and flavor the meat, and slow-cooked pork shoulder is so tender, it's unnecessary. This cut of pork is moist enough that a good rub and the kiss of smoke, combined with the moisture provided by the internal fat and collagen, will make it taste wonderful.

2) Trim the Fat

Trim off most of the fat from the exterior of the meat but not all of it. Fat helps carry flavor and a little cooks up into a nice crisped bark.

3) Take the Time to Season Right

Cover the meat thoroughly with your favorite seasoning. We suggest our Perfect Pork Rub or Pork & Poultry Rub. Allow the seasoned meat to sit for at least a half hour to allow the salt and spices to penetrate; for deeper flavor, season it a day ahead and keep it refrigerated.

4) Enhance Flavor With Wood Pellets

The wood pellets you use for smoking the pork also enhance the flavor quite a bit. It’s hard to go wrong with using your favorite, but if you’re just getting into pellet grilling, a Signature Blend and Hickory will give your meat a full-bodied flavor. Check out our Wood Pellet Flavor Guide and learn what other flavors pair well with pork.

5) Use a Meat Thermometer

Pulled pork's best friend is a good meat thermometer. A leave-in thermometer, such as a MEATER, keeps track of the meat's temperature in real-time, and you can check on it from your phone, this is the best option when your cook is hours long.

6) Keep It Low and Slow

Cooking temperature all depends on how much time you have to really work some love and smoke into that pork. If you have the time, 225 degrees Fahrenheit is an excellent sweet spot for low-and-slow cooked pork butt. At this temperature, you can also use Super Smoke if your Traeger has that capability. You can cook it at 225°F for the entire time, or raise it after a few hours of speed cooking along.

7) Plan for the Stall

The temperature of the pork rises steadily to 150°F and then hovers there for what feels like forever while the moisture moves to the surface and evaporates. Then, during what's known as the stall, the pork may hold between 150°F and 160°F for hours. At this point, you may want to wrap the pork in butcher paper or foil to help speed up the cooking a bit. You can also raise the temperature of the grill because if wrapped, the meat is no longer absorbing smoke.

8) Test for Doneness — Every Pork Butt Is Different

When is pork butt ready? Depends on the size, your grill, and the weather. What you are looking for is fork-tender meat and an internal temperature between 195°F and 204°F. This can take up to 6-12 hours, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time.

While temperature is a good gauge, it can vary depending on where the thermometer was inserted. Try these tests to check for doneness:

If you are cooking a bone-in pork butt, use a glove or paper towel to protect your fingers and wiggle the bone. When the meat is cooked to tender, it should easily turn and come. This means she is done.

If you are smoking a boneless butt, insert a fork in the meat and try to rotate it. If it turns with only a little torque, your meat is done.

The color of your pork butt could be misleading. The exterior should look dark brown in color.

If the pork butt hasn't reached the desired internal temperature or isn't tender, close the lid and let it cook for another 30 minutes before you check again.

If it is still not tender enough, you may have a tough butt. Try wrapping it in aluminum foil and let it go for another hour. However, do not take it above 205°F or the muscle fibers will start giving up moisture and toughen.

9) Let It Rest (This Is Key)

When cooking large hunks of meat, a good rest is as important as a good cook.

Let it rest at room temperature for at least 45 minutes and up to a couple of hours before shredding it. If. you're more than a few hours from mealtime, you can leave the meat on the Traeger with the heat off, or put it in the indoor oven and hold it there by dialing the temp down to about 170°F.

Make a faux Cambro using a tight plastic beer cooler. Leave the probe in the meat and wrap the hunk tightly in foil. Then wrap the foil with more towels, and put the whole thing in the cooler. Fill up the cooler with more towels, blankets, or newspaper to keep the meat insulated. Hang the thermometer cord over the lid of the cooler, and close it tightly. Make sure it never drops below 145 degrees Fahrenheit (this technique will soften the bark and change the texture of the meat very slightly).

10) Always Pull, Never Chop

Resist the temptation to cut the pork into chunks. Maintain the most moisture by pulling the pork apart by hand. You may also put the pork in a stand mixer to help with the process. Distribute the flavorful crusty bits evenly throughout the heap of pork. Make sure you save any flavorful drippings and pour them over the meat.

11) Don't Oversauce

It's easy to get carried away with one of our delicious barbecue sauces, but don't add so much that you can't taste the meat! Lastly, don't forget to ENJOY it. Part of the fun and the love is the slow process. So, grab a drink and enjoy the smoke.

How to Cook Pulled Pork on a Pellet Grill

The best tool at your disposal for cooking smoked pulled pork is a pellet smoker. With plenty of space, and easy and consistent temperature control, it’s a worry-free experience and also enables optimal smoke flavor. Fans within the smoker will circulate the heat and wood pellet smoke all around the meat while cooking it evenly.

How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Pork Butt at 225 °F?

At 225 °F, a pork butt will take 6-12 hours to reach the optimal internal temperature of 195-204 °F.

How to Cook Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker

While a Traeger is the best way to cook pork shoulder outside, a slow cooker is the best indoor appliance for making pulled pork because it can maintain a consistently low temperature. However, you'll have to add a couple of extra steps to approximate the flavor and texture of wood-smoked pulled pork.

You won't naturally get the appetizing brown bark and crispy bits that you achieve from wood smoking. You can brown the pork in a cast iron skillet before you put it in the slow cooker to give it a more attractive look. You also won't get wood-fired flavor.

Also, make sure to measure the size of your slow cooker before you buy the pork. Larger pork butts may not fit.

Season the pork like you would for the grill, then add about a cup of liquid. You can use water, or something else like beer, apple cider vinegar, chicken broth, or a mixture. Cover the slow cooker, set to low, and leave for 6 to 12 hours, depending on the size of your cut of meat.

How to Cook Pulled Pork in the Oven

You can cook pulled pork on the stove or oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but you sacrifice the tenderness and smoke flavor. Cook for approximately 45 minutes per pound.

Smoked Pulled Pork Leftovers

One of the best things about pulled pork is its versatility. Serve it on its own with collards and potatoes or use it in a classic pulled pork sandwich. It’s also great in tacos and nachos. Pulled pork leftovers are always a treat. Portion the meat and freeze it airtight for future good eating. (To reheat it, thaw it first, then cook it over low heat with a little added liquid until heated through.) Here are some of our favorite ways to use tender pulled pork.

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Start with your leftover pulled pork and build this tasty pulled pork sandwich, complete with a flavorful, crunchy slaw. For a nice kick, add pickled jalapeño, and banana peppers.


Carnitas is Spanish for “little meats," and they are ideal for tacos. Braise your pulled pork leftovers in beer and cumin to add flavor and get them hot, then add toppings as suggested in this carnitas recipe.


Pulled pork makes for epic nachos. Use whatever pulled pork you have on hand or follow the recipe.

Eggs Benedict

Pulled pork is taking ham's place on this brunch favorite for [pulled pork eggs benedict(

Follow these tips and you'll have tender, delicious pork to feed everyone at the party — and ideas for leftovers to feed any crowd that might show up the next day.


How to Smoke a Pork Butt for Pulled Pork:

  1. Trim excess fat off the butt.
  2. Season liberally with Pork & Pultry Rub.
  3. Use hickory, apple, or a blend of wood pellets.
  4. Set your grill to 225 degrees.
  5. Smoke until fork-tender, 6-12 hours.
  6. Pull when the internal temperature is between 195 and 204 degrees.
  7. Let it rest for 30 - 60 minutes.
  8. Pull the pork butt with your hands.
  9. Apply sauce, but don't over sauce.
  10. Enjoy!

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